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Some Florida children see benefits from medical marijuana, but questions remain | ABC Action News

By: Anthony Hill

Posted at 10:45 AM, Jan 19, 2024 and last updated 5:40 PM, Jan 19, 2024

In Focus:

  • Medical marijuana for children was legalized in Florida in 2016
  • It’s commonly used to treat children living with debilitating medical conditions
  • Some of the biggest concerns are quality control and a lack of studies on medical marijuana in children

It’s a debate that’s been going on for years now in our state: medical marijuana for children. We’re looking at all of the angles of this debate in this “Full Circle” report.
Medical marijuana for children was legalized in Florida in 2016. Since then, many families and physicians swear by its relaxing effect on children living with medical conditions like autism, epilepsy and PTSD, while others in the medical community say more research needs to be done before this becomes mainstream.

A FAMILY’S STORY USING MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Jonathan Rose is a happy 20-year-old living with autism. However, Jonathan’s father, Rich Rose, said he wasn’t always happy-go-lucky. He was diagnosed with Autism when he was three years old, and his father said Jonathan experienced an immense amount of anxiety for much of his early life.

“To the point where he was, like, being destructive in our house. Like, you know, breaking holes in walls, and I had holes all over the house,” said Rich Rose.

Rich said they tried different things to soothe Jonathan, who also suffered from irritable bowel syndrome.

“Some things worked, some things didn’t,” Rich explained.

Through their research, they stumbled across medical marijuana as a possible remedy and decided to give it a try when Jonathan was 13 years old. Every morning, Jonathan swallows a capsule that contains his daily dose of CBD.

“I will tell you, it was amazing. It was like turning on a switch. Once he started taking the medical cannabis, CBD, it actually calmed him down to the point where his body was more normalized,” said Rich.

THE DOCTOR WHO CERTIFIES MEDICAL MARIJUANA FOR CHILDREN

Dr. David Berger is the founder of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care and medical cannabis clinic Wholistic ReLeaf in Tampa. Jonathan is just one of the more than a thousand children Dr. Berger has certified to use medical marijuana in Florida. He said the process to get children certified is rigorous, requiring the child to be diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, along with a second doctor who also agrees medical cannabis could help.

“We talk about things that have been tried already. So, that we are weighing the pros versus cons compared to the alternatives,” explained Dr. Berger. Most medical marijuana administered to children has little to no THC, the chemical that makes you high.

THE CONCERN

“So, our biggest concerns, for non-FDA approved products is the inconsistency in what you may be getting,” said Dr. Kevin Chapman, with the American Epilepsy Society.

Dr. Chapman said the AES supports the use of Epidiolex, an FDA-approved CBD drug, but that parents should be cautious when using unapproved brands.

“When you walk into a dispensary, it’s sometimes unclear exactly what you’re going to be getting,” explained Dr. Chapman.

Another concern among some in the medical community is the lack of studies on medical marijuana for children and the impact it could have on a child’s developing brain.

“It’s certainly true that there’s not been enough studies done,” explained Dr. Berger. “Everything in life – and when it comes to any kind of medical treatment, you weigh the potential benefits versus the potential risks, and you make the decision that’s best for that individual patient.”

One thing for sure is that both Dr. Berger and Dr. Chapman agree that parents should do a lot of research before considering medical marijuana for their children.